Durango is a North-western Mexican state; most of the landscape in Durango is mountainous and densely forested, but there are also valleys and semi-desertic regions, where there is a respectable population of scorpions (alacranes). Although the largest density of scorpions may be found in the coastal states of Guerrero and Nayarit, Durango has made a name as “la tierra del alacrán” – “scorpion land”, and the adoration for these arachnids is shown in souvenirs with real scorpions, such as in keychains, and images of the animal on textiles, which may be found all around stores and market stands (photo below, left). Scorpions have become such an icon of the state, that they have made their way into a tortilla, and are nowadays, a trendy filling for tacos (photo below, right):
The state has been hometown to many celebrities, such as actress Dolores del Río (1904-1983, remembered as one of the most successful Mexican actresses in Hollywood), illustrious composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) and his equally notable brother José Revueltas (1914-1976). Historical figures have also called Durango their birthplace; the capital city is named Victoria de Durango, after Independence War hero and first President of Mexico, Guadalupe Victoria (1786-1843), and the “Museo General Francisco Villa” (Av. 5 de Febrero, Zaragoza y Bruno Martinez, Durango) is a museum dedicated to Pancho Villa (1873-1923) and the Revolution War era (read more about this in my previous post).
A unique dish from the state of Durango is Gallinas Borrachas (“Tipsy” Hens); I think this recipe has an influence from the French coq au vin, an elegant way to make an old chicken taste tender and delectable, although contemporary versions call for a “young hen” (is that not just a chicken?) or Cornish hens. I found that the “mature” stewing hen I used in this recipe was indeed tasty, although very fatty compared to a young chicken, and the amount of meat is just enough for three generous portions, one from the whole breast, and two from the leg quarters, or four portions if the wings are served with half a breast each. An easy substitution, with a milder and leaner taste, is to use a regular whole chicken.
Durango Style “Tipsy” Hen – Gallina Borracha
Ingredients (for 3-4 portions)
1 hen; fresh or thawed from frozen
¼ lb (110 g) thick-sliced ham; cut into cubes
¼ lb (110 g) Mexican chorizo; casing removed
1 clove garlic; peeled and minced
¼ tsp ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican (Ceylon)
1/8 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp salt, or to taste
½ tbsp sugar
1 can (156 ml) tomato paste
1 ½ cups water
½ cup sweet red wine, such as Port or Jerez
1 sprig parsley; washed
1/3 cup raisins
¼ cup almonds; peeled and sliced
I found a stewing “mature” hen in the freezer at an international and gourmet store (photo below, left). Remove bird from package, wash and pat dry; remove any fine feathers by plucking with kitchen tweezers or fingers. Cut into pieces, dislocating joints for two leg quarters, and either trim wings and back to leave the breast as a third portion, or press breast down firmly to break the breastbone and separate into two halves, with a wing attached. I chose the first option, for three large portions, plus all the extra little pieces (photo below, right):
Reserve in the fridge.
In a large pan over medium heat, cook the chorizo, breaking into small pieces (photo below, left). Once crispy, incorporate cubed ham (photo below, right):
After a couple of minutes, once the ham is slightly browned, transfer to a bowl, along with the chorizo, using a slotted spoon to drain excess fat (photo below, left). Place a batch of hen pieces in the fat, in a single layer, skin down (photo below, right):
After a couple of minutes, flip hen pieces, to brown evenly on all sides (photo below, left). Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the rest of the hen. Cover and reserve. Tilt the pan and remove and discard all fat and juices, except for approximately two tablespoons; add the garlic, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper, stirring and cooking for just a few seconds (photo below, right):
Add tomato paste, fry and mix with the seasonings for about one minute, then add half a cup of water, to deglaze the pan, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pan (photo below, left). In a cup, dissolve sugar in wine and one cup of water, then add to the pan and mix (photo below, right):
Return reserved meat to the pan, tucking in the pieces so they all are at least partially covered with sauce (photo below, left). Add raisins and parsley (photo below, right):
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for half an hour. Uncover and check if meat is tender when pricked with a fork. If still tough or looks pink inside, cook in ten-minute intervals, as needed, until tender and no longer pink.
Increase heat to medium and incorporate reserved ham and chorizo (photo below, left); after a few minutes, when everything is hot, adjust seasoning with salt, to taste, and finish by sprinkling almonds on top (photo below, right):
To plate, spread a generous amount of sauce with all the add-ins on a dinner plate, then nest a portion of meat in the middle, and top with more sauce and add-ins:
This was a rich and satisfying meal; I must confess that at some point I thought the bird could almost be optional, considering all the seasonings and add-ins. However, I found that the juices and fat, from bone to skin, delivered a lot of flavour to the sauce; conversely, the hen also became incredibly flavourful from the chorizo, ham, wine and seasonings, so the dish is really well balanced overall.
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